A few years ago, when I lived northside and spent a lot of time around Smith Street, I first heard of pastry chef Pierre Roelofs' dessert degustations, then held at Fitzroy's Cafe Rosamond. (I've since heard they were previously at Monsieur Truffe's former Smith Street site.)
The idea was you paid a set price (around $50.00 each, from memory) for a set number of courses of dessert only. Yes, DESSERT ONLY. I remember being impressed by (a) the concept of a degustation comprising solely desserts (if you're a sweet tooth too - admit you're also in love with the idea), and (b) the variety explored within such a constricted genre - sometimes focused around certain ingredients, or catering to certain food requirements (e.g. lactose intolerant, vegan). Possibly, the variety was to make it more interesting for Roelofs, or more inclusive for potential customers ...but it just all sounded really clever. Roelofs is Kiwi-born and trained in Switzerland for some years. He prepares each element of his desserts personally.
I knew Milkwood as a regular cafe, having eaten brunch there several times. It makes sense to me that a daytime venue be utilised by night for a different purpose. Not only does it bring more attention to each business individually, through buzz about one or the other, but it would split (or at least lighten) the cost of overheads. In Melbourne's competitive cafe/restaurant market, any penny saved to keep an awesome business going is a good thing.
|My friend looking forward to desserty goodness|
We pre-purchased our tickets online: $55.00 each for what turned out to be three courses of dessert - but I think should actually have been four, according to the website and online reviews. At the time, I felt relieved: I'd expected four or five courses, but after two, wasn't sure I could stomach that many! They weren't overly sweet, for desserts - but of course, the nature of dessert is that it IS sweet. Those three courses taught me the maximum amount of sugar my body can handle!
It was strange rocking up to a closed Milkwood, its front room packed up and lights dimmed. A sign on the window pointed us down the side path to a back entry, and we found ourselves in the light, neutral back rooms of the venue. We were politely greeted by staff who were obviously enjoying the novelty of serving desserts to excited guests, and were led to our table.
An archway and lots of light-coloured wood gave the place a clean, Scandinavian feel. Water was served from pastel country-style pitchers, and a light, country-kitsch theme continued in the crockery, and even the arty bill. We ordered from the non-alcoholic drinks menu (truth be told - slightly disappointing, but probably healthier, since we'd already down a few drinks with our light antipasto dinner up the road) and awaited our first course.
It was an earl grey meringue, atop a rich base of apricot, almond creme and sablée (pastry). The flavours and textures complemented one another surprisingly well, and also went very nicely with my chamomile tea.
Next was a lime coconut ice-cream, with a lime jelly, jasmine and rum raisins. I'm not normally a fan of rum raisin, but the sweet-and-sour lightness of the lime and coconut helped cut through its richness.
Finally, third course was a chickpea sponge (unusual, right? but yummy!) with passionfruit cream and gel, and a chocolate crumb.
I was rather disappointed that one of the courses did not turn out to be Roelofs' signature 'dessert tube' (of various changing flavours) - I'm guessing this is the course that we missed out on. Perhaps they'd run out (the table next to us didn't get them, either). But, as I said - three courses of sugar was plenty for me, and in any case, I enjoyed the courses we did receive.
Dessert Evenings can be booked through the Pierre Roelofs website, and are currently scheduled in once per week, as far as August. Make sure you book ahead - they are very popular - and you will need to pay ahead, too. Approximately one hour and 20 minutes is allocated for each sitting. The set menu is changed frequently, and dietary requirements *may* be able to be catered for, with plenty of notice (but it's best to enquire).
Roelofs' current project is Dessert Studies: basically a collaboration with other creatives to help devise new Dessert Evenings dishes. From time to time, he also runs a Dessert Intensive, a short course designed to share his knowledge, skills and experience with pastry chefs of the future. Details of both projects can be found on his website.
This is one chef determined to make the world a sweeter place.
Update: 6 July 2016
Update: 6 July 2016
In response to this blog post, staff from the Dessert Evenings contacted me and advised that there should indeed have been four courses rather than three, and that the initial course should have been a dessert tube. Apparently there are usually extra tubes on hand, so they are not sure how we were missed. Of course we understand that these things can happen - no biggie! They kindly offered for us to return and sample a dessert tube on another occasion, which we hope to do soon.